As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Eater checked in with Austin’s defining restaurants to see how the pandemic has affected business, service models, and more. Next up in this series: Justin and Lakana Trubiana, co-owners of spicy Thai food truck Dee Dee.
Eater Austin: How is COVID-19 pandemic affecting business right now?
Justin Trubiana: We initially closed for two months when the pandemic first hit, but since we have opened back up, business has continued to grow. We’ve been able to streamline the kitchen due to the convenience of online ordering, and we are actually doing more volume in a shorter amount of time than before the COVID-19 pandemic. We never expected that.
Before the pandemic, the biggest request we had from customers was if they could order ahead of time, but it was too chaotic trying to take orders at the window with preorders mixed in. We went fully online only during the pandemic, and found it’s a much, much more efficient model not only for us in the kitchen, but for the majority of our customers. Pre-pandemic, we’d often have a line when we opened with a 45-minute to an hour wait. With online ordering, now there’s zero wait — although we do sometimes get fully booked up for dinner fairly early in the day.
We’re also very fortunate to be a relatively small food truck operation without the big rent and overhead of large restaurants, which makes facing the challenges for us a little easier to navigate.
We’ve noticed a lot less tourist business, and the majority of support has been our regular locals. The love and support has been nothing short of overwhelming.
What is the current service model?
We are doing online orders only through our website. You can eat and drink outside at Radio Coffee & Beer’s large outdoor garden area with socially distant seating, or do contactless pick up and take food to-go.
When the pandemic first hit, my wife and I were in the process of trying to get fully staffed up for the spring, but obviously put that on hold when we shut down. Out of safety for ourselves and our customers, we are currently only operating with the two of us instead of having three to four people working in a very small kitchen space.
Without the help of support staff, it was necessary for us to stop doing lunch service so we could prep during the day and focus purely on dinner. We’ve had to put our Sunday lunch special, Thai BBQ Rotisserie Chicken, on hold until we feel comfortable bringing staff back in the kitchen to help.
What measures are you currently implementing to prevent the spread of COVID?
Our staff only consists of my wife and I. We have been practicing safe social distancing since the beginning of all of this. We have at-risk people in our family, so we are being extra cautious. We don’t go out or do anything that would put us or our family at risk.
The food truck is sectioned off by planters and rope to maintain safe distance and we have a pickup table behind our truck in the back parking lot where you can park, pick up your food, take into Radio’s garden area to sit, eat and drink, or take it to-go.
Are y’all planning or thinking about any future changes (due to COVID-19 or otherwise)?
Right now, we feel really good about how the business is operating. We feel safe and we’re fortunate to be at such a great location. Our main hope is that we can get back to doing the Sunday barbecue chicken special before too long, but we are waiting for the COVID-19 landscape to improve first.
By not doing lunch service, Lakana has been able to focus on her gardening, which is her first passion with cooking. Our hope is to use this opportunity to become more farm-to-table, with the dream of being as near to 100 percent self-sustaining as possible. It’s been really exciting to use hard-to-source herbs and vegetables she grows in the food we cook. It’s how she grew up, and we would love to share that with Austin to the best of our ability.
Lakana also started her own YouTube channel where she gardens, shares some recipes, and makes dishes from the produce she harvests. It’s the beginning stages of where we want to take Dee Dee and has been a lot of fun, and it also keeps us busy, which is always a good thing in such uncertain times.
How has business been so far?
It’s been overwhelmingly positive. More than we ever dreamed possible. Our dinners are busier than they were before the pandemic. With online ordering streamlining the kitchen, we’re typically able to do anywhere from one-and-a-half to two times the volume per hour, with fewer people. While online ordering and pre-orders require a lot of prep work ahead of time, they have made such a huge difference for us and our customers. It will be the way forward long-term. I’m really excited for when we get beyond COVID-19 and can get fully staffed up again with this new service model.
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